A Voyage into Unknown Possibilites: My journey with middle distance in a nutshell

After a satisfying cycle of 1500m training which culminated in me making the IVP 1500m school team, I fell sick. I believe that in every training cycle, one has to expect to fall sick once, and this was the best and worst time to fall sick. It came right before the family trip to Italy, and so there was going to be a self-declared break from running anyway. But make no mistake; I wanted very much to run down the streets of Venice and along the ruins of Rome. But this was cruelly denied to me when my cough became almost hacking, verging on pneumonia. There was nothing I could do but be patient, eat too much pasta, drink too much wine, and hope that I recover as soon as I could.

By the time which I did, it was a mere 2 weeks before IVP, and I resigned myself to just having faith in my training. Just 2 days before the race, I felt like pulling out altogether. I couldn’t see myself being fit enough to represent my school. I was doing a mere 8x200m workout and saw myself stopping after 5, badly panting, wheezing, lungs not used to the pace and the pain. And I was doing this at my target 1500m pace.

That was when I saw Vanessa, who happened to be doing the same workout and so we completed the last three 200m repeats together before I asked her for her advice on the whole situation. She told me simply that if I tried my very best during the race, that I had nothing to regret. Which was exactly what I needed to hear. Because I was not at my best by a long shot; all my training had been compromised by sickness and I was a mere shadow. But though the body was weak the mind was still very much in it; I still had the ability to try my best at every moment. Be my best no, but try my best always.

And so the day came to run the race, my last 1500m race. I was a bag of nerves, and Szu Jin was on the bus with me trying to calm me down. The bus ride took longer than expected and so I had to rush a bit, scrambling to wear my shoes, get a last minute massage from Chun Meng, and then do a few laps to warm up. All this rushing calmed me down, and I was able to better focus. I saw my parents and brother make their way to the stands as I was walking to the holding area, and that somehow gave me more assurance. At the holding area all the athletes looked sufficiently nervous, and that, too calmed me down, as contradictory as this sounds. Perhaps as runners, we live for the contradictions, where any challenging situation can be turned on its head.

The race started at the pace I imagine my 2.4km to be run at, a dead slow crawl that went on for the first two laps. The splits were called out and all the runners were looking nervously at each other, not sure what to make of the situation. I tried to stay with the front pack, was wary of drifting too far back. And then, at the last 600m, the gears shifted, the first runner accelerated away, and a few of them followed. I was sure to stay close by, but as I was to discover, was not close enough. I overtook one or two stragglers towards the start of the last lap, and could see fourth place just 30 meters in front. But there was no sign of slowing down from him. The last lap was thus spent trying to live with the pace, and wary of being overtaken at the end, I looked back a few times and crossed the line 5th.

If you told me two days before the race that I would get 5th, I would be pretty stoked. But the fact was that the race panned out so tactically, that I might have been able to squeeze out a better result had I just forgot all common sense and followed 3rd place and then, who knows what would have happened? I just didn’t have that vision. But I wasn’t too sloppy over the past two laps either, covering 600 meters in just under 1 min 40 seconds. So I don’t think that I could have gone a lot faster given the circumstances.

I was always a 5th place sort of runner, and I think I’ve come to accept that. It’s not too sloppy for sure, but just never podium material. I got 5th for my A division 1500m finals, there was a small 10km race I once ran where I attained 5th as well. Then there was this. I might be a 3rd place runner at best, but the race just wasn’t my race.

Running 1500m has taught me a lot about living fast and dying perhaps too early, I think the distance is a firm favourite for me because I was always disproportionately better at it than other distances. I could come within a couple of seconds of people who ran 4, 5 minutes faster than me for 10000m, and I could close down on those whom I thought were untouchable. It was the one event that kept giving me faith that I was a decent runner, and the one event that everyone was scared of but I loved. Training for the event made sure that if you’re head to head with me in the final 100m of a 10km, then you’re most likely going to lose to my kick. It was that kind of event that started to define me as a runner, someone who might not be so good at the longer distances but has a violent tendency to outkick in the shorter ones.

But I think all that is behind me now. I think if making it to IVP finals is the culmination of all my middle distance prowesses then I’ll let it be. Running the 1500m has given me a lot to chew on and love about running, and I know that it’s time to move on. There’s a lot more to running than going for the 66 second last lap, or blazing through in 2:55 per kilometre. And so I’ve set my sights on something perhaps more ambitious and straight out insane which I will talk about more at a later date.

In the past, running was always running to me, with only an objective to move forward, to test my limits. But now I’m learning that running has many layers to it. It gives in many weird, unexpected ways; at the end of a 5x600m workout when you’re breathing harder than your mother when she birthed you, to a 28km long run when your legs are screaming before your lungs do. All these are immensely rewarding to me and I love every moment of it. At the end, running is but a great voyage into unknown possibilities.

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